Abu Dhabi Airport Terminal 2 closed
Several Bangladeshi nationals are currently stuck at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Several Bangladeshi expats are once again stranded at the capital’s airport, despite possessing all the required documents to return to the country.

Having arrived on a Biman Bangladesh Airlines flight carrying 41 passengers, 30 men are currently unable to gain immigration clearance to enter the UAE. Speaking to Gulf News, the men, who hail from different parts of Bangladesh, said they have valid UAE visas, along with negative COVID-19 tests and green ticks on the ICA website.

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“The issue first came up over the weekend, when 81 passengers on a Biman Bangladesh Airlines flight and 51 on an Air Arabia flight were unable to gain immigration clearance. It was not clear what the complication was, but on-the-ground sources indicated it could have been an issue with airline operating systems,” Mohammad Abu Zafar, Bangladeshi ambassador to the UAE, told Gulf News.

Request for meals

About five of the passengers were able to complete their processing, but Abu Zafar said 127 were held back. “The majority have already been sent back on return flights. In the meantime, we have another 30 people stranded at the Abu Dhabi International Airport. We have advised the airline to provide meals for them, and are in touch with local authorities, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a bid to resolve the situation,” he added.

The stranded passengers appeared dismayed at their situation, saying that they had no news of what would happen to them. “I left on an emergency on February 21 because my mother had passed away. The leave was scheduled till March 25, but I was unable to return due to COVID-19 restrictions. Finally, when I heard that flights had resumed, and I received the ICA approval, I decided to come back. Having cleared all the airport checks in Dhaka, I did not expect to get stranded when I reached the UAE,” said Ibrahim Khalil, 42, an employee at a catering company with an employment visa.

On ‘borrowed money’

Khalil has not had any income for the past six months, and has left behind his wife and other family in Bangladesh. “I know my pay will be docked for the extended leave, and I have also borrowed money over the last few months. I really hope we will be allowed to enter. As usual, we had proceeded to the immigration after landing at 2AM, and our passports were cursorily checked as we were queuing. Then we were asked to wait, and we have been here ever since,” Khalil said.

Another stranded passenger, Mohammad Shohag, 43, said he had already contacted his employer. “I am a clerk at a security systems firm, and have a valid visa and ICA approval for return. I was on annual leave since February, and was due to return in April. Since then, I have been waiting to get back. I purchased a one-way ticket to Abu Dhabi for 26,000 takas (Dh1,126), and was hoping to resume my job,” Shohag said.

He hails from the Begungunjo village of Noakhali, where his parents, wife and four children live. Shohag said he has been working at the same firm for the past 11 years.

‘Without food and drink’

Jashim Uddin, 50, has returned with his valid investor visa, saying that he had gone on leave in December 2019. “I purchased a business class ticket for Dh5,240, even though I have had no income since I went on leave. I really hope our situation will be resolved soon. We have been at the airport without food and drink since we landed,” he said.

N.C. Barua, regional manager at Biman Bangladesh Airlines, said he had received “no written statement” on the matter so far. “We know that these passengers have valid visas, COVID-19 negative results and ICA approvals, which is why they were even cleared to fly,” he said.

Awaiting clear directives

He also confirmed that another Biman flight is scheduled to land in the capital at 1:45am on Thursday. “202 people have booked their seats, although the final number of people who receive clearance to fly is likely to change,” he said.

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Abu Zafar said he is awaiting clear directives so that the correct advice can be conveyed to authorities in Bangladesh.

Sources have indicated that residents of other nationalities with valid UAE visas are also currently stranded at the airport.